Swaziland's Prime Minister Themba
Dlamini has declared that the country is in a state of national
disaster due to the effects of drought, hailstorms and the
HIV/AIDS pandemic. Critics say the declaration comes late as
about a quarter of the population already is in need of food aid.
Prime Minister Dlamini yesterday at a press conference in Mbabane
announced that "the Kingdom of Swaziland is seriously facing a
humanitarian crisis that stems from three adjoining fundamental
trends, namely drought and land degradation, increasing poverty
- All of these have reinforcing negative effects that have
created a web of extreme vulnerability reinforced by the collapse
of family structures, added Mr Dlamini. The result was a state of
national disaster, which means that more of state resources must
be directed towards the humanitarian crisis and probably will
result in increased foreign donor aid.
The Swazi Prime Minister said that the current crisis presented
"a novel situation" because of "the deadly combination of
HIV/AIDS and poverty." According to the UN, almost 40 percent of
the Swazi population is now HIV infected. Therefore, the Kingdom
was now facing "a desperate scenario, which requires urgent
national and international intervention."
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Swaziland however
has been facing a humanitarian crisis for a longer time. The
Kingdom, according to WFP, "has experienced three years of
erratic rainfall, which have dramatically reduced agricultural
output ... and exhausted many people's coping mechanisms."
The UN food agency is already feeding more than 200,000 Swazis as
part of its large emergency operation in Southern Africa. Given
the worldwide negative publicity surrounding luxury spending by
King Mswati III, it has however been difficult to raise funds for
WFP operations in Swaziland.
The declaration of disaster in Swaziland was long awaited and the
semi-independent daily 'Times of Swaziland' talks of "a delay
running into several months." Swazi civil society groups had
urged the government to make this declaration for months.
Prime Minister Dlamini told the 'Times of Swaziland' that the
declaration would mean serious changes in government spending,
but that "not all national projects will come to a halt." Asked
on the large investments in Swaziland's new and controversial
international airport, Mr Dlamini however said he would not
comment on single projects.
The Swazi government hopes that the state of emergency coupled
with changes in public spending would now attract foreign donors.
Prime Minister Dlamini at the Mbabane press conference sent an
"appeal to the international community, our friends and the
citizens to assist and make whatever available resources in order
to respond effectively to the challenges the country is facing."
WFP representatives commented they had expected the announcement
as Swaziland grew more desperate to generate new funds from
donors. "The situation has definitely worsened since October last
year, when people were still hopeful about the rain. What
happened is in December and January is that it had become clear
that the rains were not sufficient," the WFP's Sarah Laughton
told AFP news agency.
Fresh funds for the many drought and HIV/AIDS victims in
Swaziland however will depend upon whether the government follows
up the declaration with changes in public spending. In
particular, it will be noted whether Mswati III, Africa's last
absolute King, will back down on his plans to build new palaces
for his wives and other luxury spending.
As the Swazi government, hit by low international credibility,
struggles to achieve new funds, potential donors have sufficient
humanitarian projects they could finance in the region. Millions
are affected by the regional drought in Southern Africa. Only in
nearby Lesotho, which declared a state of disaster one week ago,
WFP estimates that some 800,000 persons need food aid.